【SkinCare 2: Protection is the Key – How to Choose a Suitable Sun Cream?】

According to the previous article 【SkinCare 2: Protection is the Key – Basic Knowledge of Sun Cream】, I have talked about the causes of skin aging, the types and characteristics of UV filters. 

Now I will focus on how to define a good sun cream.

As I mentioned, everywhere has their own cosmetic regulation which limit what kinds of ingredients the skincare manufacturers can use. In the US, sun cream is regulated as drugs while it is just cosmetics in European countries. Therefore, some ingredients you can find in sun cream product produced in European countries cannot be legally included in sun creams marketed in the US without an approved new drug application (NDA). (And Obviously the process of application is quite costly and complicated. That’s why the development of sun cream technologies in the US is fallen behind the other countries.) 

However, the indicators of showing how the sun creams perform on the package are quite similar and I think we all have to know the meaning behind those indicators before making any purchase. 

UV-B — Sun Protection Factor (防曬係數, SPF) 

SPF indicates the level of protection against UV-B. It has two interpretations

First, it’s related to the length of time that your skin will be burned by the sun. For example, if you usually begin to be burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 30 sun cream will protect you for 30 times longer, meaning you are protected for up to 300 minutes and you are better to reapply it within/before/every 5 hours to maintain the protection. Of course, it’s all related to the skin color tone, the self-protection time of dark skin color tone will be longer while light skin color tone will be shorter. Therefore, people with white skin have higher chance to be burned by the sun. 

Second, it’s related to how much UV-B will be blocked. For example, SPF 30 means that 1/30 (3.3%) of the UV-B will hit your skin, and the remaining 96.7% will be blocked. That’s why the difference between SPF30 and SPF50 will be that small because SPF50 will block 98% of UVB and only 2will hit your skin. 

Therefore, many professionals recommend people to choose SPF30 rather than SPF50 if you are not always in outdoor. Below are the reasons for your reference.

  • Their protection difference is small.
  • Don’t want to give users a misperception that SPF50 is strong enough so they might not re-apply so frequently 
  • For physical sun cream, when SPF goes higher than 30, the “whitening effect” will become obvious. In order to solve this problem, manufacturers will use “nano” versions or other techniques which will affect their performance on UV-A protection while UV-B protection will be enhanced. Of course, technologies will be improved every second, manufacturers will find the balance for the formulation to cater the needs in different markets. 

UV-A — PPD, PA, Broad Spectrum, UVA logo, Boots Star

  • Persistent Pigment Darkening (持續曬黑係數, PPD) 

The evaluation of PPD is initiated in Japan and similar to SPF. It refers to how long you will get tanned under the exposure in UVA comparing the results between unprotected and protected skin. For example, if you apply PPD 10 sun cream on your skin, it will take 10 times longer for you to get tanned. This indication is less popular in the world and you seldom see it on products’ package.

  • Protection Grade of UVA (UV-A防護等級, PA)

Suggested by Japan Cosmetic Industry Association (日本化妝品工業聯合會) in 1996, PA is converted from PPD. Below are their conversions for your reference. you can conclude that more + after PA, the stronger UVA protection the product will become. However, there is a tricky point. When we talk about PPD 20 and PPD 50, we are hard to tell which product is stronger since they all fall into  

PA ++++ category. This indication is commonly used in Asia markets but not in the US and Europe. 

  • Broad Spectrum (寬頻防護)

As I mentioned on 【SkinCare 2: Protection is the Key – Basic Knowledge of Sun Cream】, the wavelength of UV-B is 280-320nm while UV-A is from 320-340nm (UVA2) to 340-400nm (UVA1). Every UV filter has their own protection capability range. Within that range, we have to find their critical wavelength(臨界波長, CW) which is the 90% of their coverage as shown below. 

Image source: critical wavelength

Out of that range, their performance of protection will decline. Based on CW, we can know that most of the UV filters perform well in protecting UV-B but not UV-A as their cover range will decline when the wavelength is getting longer. Therefore, we have to mix and match different UV filters together in order to create a sun cream product that could protect you from both UV-A and UV-B. 

Then how to know the creation is just in right or balance?

We have to know the other concept – Broad Spectrum(寬頻防護標示) which means any products covering at least 370nm or above wavelength could state this on the package and this term is commonly used in the US. 

However, it doesn’t mean that when a sun cream recognized as “Broad Spectrum” could balance the protection level between UV-A and UV-B

So European Commission(歐洲委員會) suggested indication – UVA logo. 

  • UVA logo (SPF Equivalence)

Suggested by European Commission(歐洲委員會), any sun creams provided a minimum level of UV-A protection which is at least 1/3 of the SPF as stated on the package could carry the below logo. 

  • Boots Star

Initiated by Boots, UK, based on the protection ration of UV-A to UV-B, Boots categories the UV-A protection by the given stars. More stars the products have received, the stronger protection of UV-A has been provided.  You can take reference from the below chart. For 1 Star category, it means that the protection of UV-A is 20-40% of the protection of UV-B. For 5 Star category, the protection of UV-A and UV-B will be almost in the same level.

Water Resistance (抗水性)

According to FDA, no sun creams can be recognized as “water proof”. We only can state “water resistance” on the package to describe their capability of facing water.  

Below are the 2 recognized testing systems in the world for your reference. Both of them test the product capability in 40 and 80 minutes respectively. 

Based on the results, FDA system is comparatively stricter than COLIPA as it requires to state the actual test result

Finally, come to the end. Let me do a summary of what information you should look for and hope the below chart can give you a clear picture of what those terms mean.

Based on the above chart, here are the conclusions: 

  • SPF and PA are to indicate the protection time of UVA and UVB
  • Broad spectrum is for UVA coverage 
  • UVA logo and Boots star rating are mainly for indicating the protection balance between UVA and UVB of a specific sun cream.

My Sun Cream Recommendations

Honestly, when I was at my teenage, I hated using sun cream because of its texture: oily, sticky and whitening. Therefore, after my graduation in the shiny California, I got a lot of freckles on my nose and cheeks, I thought I was cute when I was in the US because all the people around me had the same skin problem. 

However, when I came back to Hong Kong where girls tended to brighten their skin through all ways in a culture promoting flawless skin, especially influenced by those Korean actresses, I was like an alien. 

Under “brainwash-ed” by my colleagues and advertisements, I took skin laser to “clean” my freckles on my face in 2013 and started my journey of sun cream exploration. Below are the before and after of my face. 

And now is 2020. My freckles haven’t visited me again thank to the below products that I am going to share.

  • Synergie Skin Uberzinc (21% Zinc Oxide/ Broad spectrum/ SPF 30 PA +++, Australia)

I have used this product for almost 5-6 years. As I was recommended by my dermatology doctor to put sun cream daily after laser treatment, then I found it from Facebook shop called MIMINGMART in Hong Kong

It is a physical sun cream with 21 % Zinc Oxide. The texture is like facial cream, very smooth, moisturized, non-sticky and lightweight. The cream is in nude color but it’s not like a BB cream or foundation to bring any color-tuning functions to your face. You still look natural after apply. You can refer to the below image for the full ingredient list and the video for more details. 

  • Sulwhasoo UV WISE (SPF50+/ PA ++++/ Anti-pollution, Korea)

I have used this sun cream for almost 2-3 years because of their claims – anti-pollution and whitening. 

This sun cream is the combination of physical and chemical ingredients

For physical part, it contains Titanium Dioxide (Nano).

For chemical parts, it contains Bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine (Tinosorb S) which is one of the broad-spectrum UV filters that is not recommended by FDA but available in Europe, Australia and other countries. For the full ingredient list, you can refer to the below image.

The overall texture is quite creamy, moisturized, non-sticky and lightweight and it is actually translucent after spreading over your skin. 

  • COS PEUTIC Daily UV Defense (SPF 50, France)

I got this sun cream from CosMax  which is the medical center I did my laser for freckles in Hong Kong. Since I had some cash coupons and had to spent them all within a specific period, so I chose to redeem for their sun cream products and I have used this product for almost 2-3 years.

This sun cream was made in France.

The ingredients are similar to Sulwhasoo. It is the combination of physical and chemical ingredients

For physical part, it contains Titanium Dioxide

For chemical parts, it contains Bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine (Tinosorb S) which is one of the broad-spectrum UV filters that is not recommended by FDA but available in Europe, Australia and other countries. For the full ingredient list, you can refer to the below image.

It is also a creamy one with enough moisturization but it will leave white residue on your face with some small particles. That’s why I heard that this product has been discontinued and replaced by the next product. So, the image shown as below is my last one. Actually, I quite like the overall package, quite decent and elegant. 

  • XOVE Supreme Skin Protection Cream (SPF 50/ PA ++++, Japan)

I got this sun cream from CosMax  too as the previous one has been discontinued and I have to find one to replace. Therefore, I give a try for it.

This sun cream is made in Japan and it is a physical sun cream with both Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide.

Surprisedly, this sun cream is not as same as the previous one. It’s translucent after spreading over your skin and it’s very light and creamy, moisturized but non-sticky. 

Honestly, I quite like the texture.

  • Olecea Beaute (Botanical + Vitamin SPF 30 +/ Broad spectrum / Mineral-based, USA)

I got this sun cream from my friend in California. It’s named Olecea.  

This sun cream is also a physical sun cream with 3% Zinc Oxide, 5% Titanium Dioxide and other botanical ingredients. You can find more information from the below image. 

This sun cream quite surprises me as its texture is very creamy and easy to spread out without leaving a white residue on face. It’s very light, moisturized and non-sticky. 

Video Review: IGTV:MissDoubleC.  

As I always said, skincare products are all personal, it should be chosen based on your preference. For me, I like creamy texture, therefore, what I have recommended are in cream format but not lotion. When it comes to your turn, you can find any format/texture/ingredients that you like and suitable for your skin. Most importantly, make sure you will keep using daily in both indoor and outdoor with at least 30SPF, PA++++ and broad spectrum/UVA logo/Star Ratings if possible.

Below are the 3 last reminders I would like to share. 

  • Please apply sun cream 20 minutes before you go out and refer to the below chart for the right amount of sun cream we should apply in order to get the protection stated on the package and reapply it every 2 hours or after sweating out, washing by water. 
  • Please use sun cream and makeup products with extra SPF separately. As almost all makeup products won’t provide enough protection to your skin, and even though you put both on, you are only protected by the product with the highest SPF, but not the total of two
  • Cleaning your skin is very important as it is the first step of your skin regimen. Keep in mind that most of the sun cream ingredients are oil-soluble (only dissolves in oil, but not in water), which gives them water-resistance function. Therefore, in order to completely remove sun cream, you have to use cleansing oil or makeup remover first, then wash your face by cleansing foam later. This is called “Double Cleansing”, which I will cover next.

Extra Readings

  1. British Association of Dermatologists: Sunscreen Fact Sheet
  2. European Commission: Sunscreen Products
  3. FDA: Labeling and Effectiveness Testing
  4. FDA announces new requirements for over-the counter(OTC) sunscreen products marketed in the U.S.
  5. FDA: Rulemaking History for OTC Sunscreen Drug Products

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